The case of the outsmarted smart meters

Corruption does exist in all walks of life but blaming corruption for any controversial decision with which one disagrees is not on

There is no doubt at all that outsmarting smart meters was a piece of Maltese ingenuity, with many being tempted to admire the creativity of whoever thought it up and worked it out. It is a pity that this resourcefulness is, more often than not, resorted to in order to satisfy the Maltese urge to swindle the state than to make an honest living. But that is the way of the Maltese psyche.

Over the years, swindling the state and corruption has become a way of life in Malta to the extent that even the right to vote has become a commodity that is for sale. It has become acceptable for the voter to opt for the candidate who satisfies some odd request for which the voter has no right. This national malaise seems to be incurable.

At the risk of sounding obsessed, I feel I have to state, for the umpteenth time, that this is an area where the sex-infatuated Maltese Church has failed Maltese society. People who participate daily in swindling the state in some way or other - including the time-honoured way of skiving work and getting undeserved social benefits - then go to Church and participate actively in the liturgical rites as if they were living saints. In short, the people of this most distinct of Catholic countries have completely lost the basic distinction - or the common decency - of realising what is right and what is wrong wherever public funds are concerned.

Even worse, since the majority does not see anything wrong in their own immoral behaviour, the perception is that the real corrupt persons must be the people at the top: the politicians of whichever party is in power! But then politicians of all shades and hues are to blame for this situation - as much as the Church is, if not even more.

Apart from the fact that many politicians have no qualms in doing their utmost to help their voters getting an illegal slice of the national cake, they have the habit of calling each other corrupt, thus reinforcing the idea that the real corrupt persons in Malta are only the ones sitting in the benches of the House of Representatives.

In the case of the outsmarted smart meters, we have had the PN saying that the so-called 'ring leader' of the scam being someone near Minister Konrad Mizzi and that Government's decision to offer consumers who participated in the scam the chance to come clean is tantamount to condoning the corruption. On the other hand, the Labour Party even accused the previous administration - Tonio Fenech in particular - of being aware of the scale of energy theft and doing nothing about it. Both sides are now suing each other for libel. So, what's new?

How sad! This case gave the opportunity for politicians of both sides of the House to unite and fight corruption together. Instead they keep bickering and making wild accusations at each other in order to gain some brownie points in the permanent political tug-of-war. This is just the wrong way of doing things; it is exactly how politicians put their foot in it or as the Maltese saying goes, 'drop the stone on their own feet' (iwaqqgħhu l-ġebla fuq saqajhom).

At the risk of people thinking that I am naïve, I have no hesitation in stating that I am more than sure that politicians - whether Nationalist or Labour - are not involved in most of the corruption scams that are always going on in the country - except, of course, for their weakness in the vote-catching business that leads them to try to satisfy the undeserved demands of potential voters.

We have had scandals involving tax evasion, illegal VAT refunds, purchase of oil supplies, bunkering services, driving and mariners' licences and whatnot. Apart from those instances where the perpetrators were taken to Court, there is an endless list of allegations that have never been proved. Some of these are completely wild, others are not. The national Maltese psyche is incredibly contradictory where corruption is concerned, with people thinking that everybody else is corrupt while they are not, to the extent that corruption is blamed whenever someone disagrees with a decision. This is clearly evident from the reaction of people who fail to be awarded some contract or fail in their campaign against the issue of some building permit or other. Corruption does exist in all walks of life but blaming corruption for any controversial decision with which one disagrees is not on.

This state of affairs should have provoked all politicians to do something about it. Imbuing a sense of responsibility in every citizen is not an easy task but this is made impossible when each side of the political divide blames the other for scandals and abuses for which only civil servants and other public officials are responsible.

When in conversation I insist that politicians - Ministers in particular - are not behind the great majority of corruption scandals and scams, people react with incredulity. They prefer to believe otherwise.

One problem is that in order to be efficient and effective, a Minister must have a good team around him. Choosing this team is probably the biggest headache that a Minister faces whenever he or she is appointed. They have tended to appoint party hacks because they believe in 'the cause' and can be relied upon in the situations that the political fray in which Ministers invariably land.

However, history is replete with people appointed to help in the running of some Ministry and who have then betrayed their own Minister by abusing of their position for their own benefit using dubious methods, including outright corruption. I have no doubt that many Ministers - of both Nationalist and Labour administrations - have been innocent victims of such disloyal behaviour. Yet whenever some such situation crops up, the politicians on the Opposition side do their utmost to besmirch the Minister with the abuses of his or her 'protégé'. In this way, the politicians themselves are doing a disservice to their own political class by reinforcing the popular - but fallacious - impression that behind every corruption scandal there must be a politician.

One trusts that all the perpetrators of the smart meter scam will be formally charged in the Courts of Law and get their just desserts.

But how and where does the smart meter episode leave the politicians? Smarting from the smart meter fallout! When, in fact, they could have done much better to improve the standing of the political class among the general population. Sadly, they will short-sightedly opt to win some illusory brownie points that will dissipate by the time the next general election is due.

'Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose' - the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Michael Falzon is a former Nationalist minister ([email protected])

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(1) "But that is the way of the Maltese psyche." No, not quite. The State in Malta takes a lot (perhaps not as much as overseas), but in return gives very little value. Hence, the Maltese will not "buy" what the State offers. Let the State give value and the Maltese will then pay their taxes. (2) As for Catholic hypocrisy, you are completely right! (3) "for their weakness in the vote-catching business" and there you have dropped the stone on your foot re your argument defending "politocos'". (4) What about the SMART(ASS), supposedly infallible meters acquisition (one would argue )scam by well known politicos? Any comments there about what the whole system cost, IBM and their agents, and ARMS set up in particular?